Finding Fame, Fortune and Success:  Paths to Misery or Happiness?

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I have adapted an Osho (A noted Indian Mystic and Guru) story as follows:

Once upon a time there was a young boy named Vince who lived in Minnesota.  Every weekend when his chores around the farm were done, Vince would take his canoe out to one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes with his best friend and they would spend the afternoon fishing.  Somethings they would catch crappies, sometimes bluegills, sometimes even a walleye.  Sometimes they would not catch a single fish.  Striking out did not bother them one bit.  They were content just to be out on the lake together on a beautiful Minnesota summer day.

They would sit in the canoe casting their rods and talking about many things.  They would talk about school, parents, girls, and sports.  Often they would share their dreams and talk about what they wanted to be and do when they grew up.  One day Vince saw a large jet airliner going over head.  As he looked at the plane he said, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.  I want to be an airline pilot and fly all over the world. That is my dream.”

Years passed and Vince followed his dream.  He became an airline pilot for what was then Northwest Airlines.  Later, like many other airlines they merged and became United Airlines.  Vince was a lead pilot for a jumbo passenger jet.  He flew numerous routes that took him all over the world.  He flew to China, Japan, England, France, and many other places.  He was one of the best pilots that Northwest had.

Twenty or so very busy years passed.  One day Vince had a flight that took him back to Minnesota.  He started from Paris, flew over the Great Lakes and was coming down from Northern Minnesota to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.  As his plane began the descent into the airport, he looked out the left side of the plane and noticed two young boys in a canoe fishing on a lake.  The scene brought back many happy memories to Vince and his eyes started to mist up.  He asked his co-pilot to take control for a minute while he cleared his eyes.  His co-pilot asked Vince if there was anything wrong.  Vince replied, “No, nothing wrong.  Just saw something that reminded me of my past.  One day I dreamed that I would be a pilot.  Now I dream that I am back on that lake with my best friend again.”

There is an old saying that goes “Be careful of what you ask for, you might get it.”  Of course, no one pays any attention to this bit of wisdom.  Imagine all the people who buy lottery tickets each day.   Now try to imagine any of them saying, “I better be careful, or I might win the lottery.”  We all want fame, fortune, and success.  We set goals that force us to live in the future and we forget how to live in the present.  Osho says that we can never be happy unless we can be happy for no reason at all.

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Some of you have read the story about my six friends and I who put together a “last man standing bottle” ten years ago.  Ken made a case for the bottle.  Jerry bought a name plate for the bottle with each of our names and birthdates engraved on it.  I bought a bottle of 120 proof Old Grandad while on one of my trips to Bardstown, Kentucky.   Ken and Brian have since died.  There are five of us left.  Jerry is the youngest at 74 and Dick is now the oldest at 81.

Jerry was put on hospice care about eight months ago.  I have been to visit him several times and he has joked about going to hospice care too soon.  Doctors had told him that he had only a few months to live.  Jerry has outlived their original estimates.  Friday afternoon, I received a call from Dick who had recently called Jerry.  Jerry is not doing well, and the charge nurse told Dick that Jerry would probably not make it through the weekend.  I have been wanting to stay away from any medical facilities due to the recent Covid surge, but I decided to mask up and go see Jerry.

I arrived at the clinic and was told I could make a compassion visit, but general visitors were not allowed.  I was advised to go to the main desk and see if it was okay with the unit for me to come down.  I received an approval and headed down to Jerry’s room.  The nurse on the unit met me at the door.  She knocked on the door to Jerry’s room but did not receive any response.  She went into the room and Jerry was asleep.  She woke him up and informed him that he had a visitor.

I walked into the room and Jerry was not looking very good.  He could barely open his eyes or even move.  His body was bloated, and his skin had dark splotches all over his chest, stomach, arms, and legs.  I said hi and he replied, “Hi John.”  I told him that the coffee guys (some of whom are on the “Last Man Standing” bottle) all said hi and that they wished him well.  This was somewhat of a fib.  Truth be told, Jerry was not well liked among some of the guys.  He seemed to enjoy making fun of and humiliating other people.  Over the years, this took a toll among the men.  Not many of them cared enough about Jerry to make a visit to see him.

Jerry had few friends.  I tried to be a friend to Jerry, but it never seemed to be requited.  I called him.  Visited him often at his home.  Helped him with a garage sale.  Took him to some medical appointments in the Twin Cities.  Invited him out to dinner several times and each year when I got back from Arizona, Karen and I made a point of having him over for dinner.  Not once did I ever remember Jerry returning any of my calls, stopping by to visit or even saying “Thank You” for anything I ever did for him.  Nevertheless, while I stopped the frequency of my visits with Jerry, I never gave up on him entirely.

This day, it was clear that it would be my last visit to Jerry.  I felt sad for Jerry.  He never had much.  The paradox was that he was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met.  Before his illnesses, Jerry was an avid reader who could discuss many of the great writers with exceptional insights.  Sadly, as his disease progressed, he read less and less and eventually gave up reading entirely.

I asked Jerry a few questions about his sister and other visitors.  Something I said elicited the reply, “Now and forever, mumble, mumble, mumble.”  “Jerry, I could not hear the last part of that.  You said, ‘Now and forever’ and something else.  Could you repeat it?”  Jerry replied, “Now and forever, all I ever wanted was a little attention.”  I was somewhat surprised at his comment.  I left a short time later.  I doubt I spent more than 15 minutes with Jerry the whole time.  I gave him some water and asked if he needed a nurse.  He was barely awake, but he declined any offers for help.  I told him goodbye.  I did not want to imply that it would be goodbye forever so I included the comment that I would be back after I returned from my vacation, and I would stop in to see him again.  I do not think this will ever happen.

I thought about Jerry’s comment on my way home.  Was his comment about “now and forever” some sort of delirium or was he actually reflecting on a core component of his life.  Was Jerry’s obnoxiousness and insults simply a way for him to get attention?  At this late stage in his life, was he lamenting his inability to get the attention that he so desperately desired?

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I began to wonder if a need for attention is the primary reason that most of us want fame, fortune, and success.  Rich people, famous people, celebrities all get more attention than the average person.  Think about all of the school shooters that you have heard of.  It seems that the main purpose for their rampages is attention.  There are many people who fiercely desire their five minutes of fame even if it means they get it by anti-social efforts.

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The irony is that fame, fortune, and success never bring happiness.  The more of these things you get, the more you want.  More is never enough.  More of things never satisfies.  Then the day inevitably comes when you are no longer famous.  Your money no longer buys you attention.  Your success is no longer newsworthy.  Your fame now evaporates like the morning mist.  Can you point to anyone whose fame and fortune brought them happiness?  We are brainwashed into thinking that wealth, fame, and success are stepping stones to happiness.  If only I am noticed and get attention from others, I will be happy.

To be honest, I am much like the person who buys the lottery ticket.  I have never had fame, fortune, or great success.  I have never been a great student, a prize-winning athlete, a rich business owner or won any medals or awards.  Years ago, I read all the books I could get my hands on to teach me how to be rich, famous, and successful.  Despite all my learning and education, I never rose above being an average guy with an average income and an average life.

Perhaps, I should be more grateful.  Perhaps, I have been very lucky. I have had a great life.  I have traveled widely.  I have many friends.  I married a wonderful woman and I have always been able to pay my bills.  What would my life have been like if I had become rich and famous?  My thoughts tell me that I would never have lived as happy a life as I can now point to.

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However, telling myself that is a little like someone telling me that I should be glad that my lottery ticket did not win.  Somewhere inside me is a yearning for the attention and admiration that I feel fame and fortune would bring me.  Something inside me desires to someday be “above” average.  I want to be on center stage and have all the spotlights on me.  I want to read in the morning papers, how great and talented I am.  John “The New Mark Twain.”

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I try to counter the above negative thoughts by reminding myself that I am really blessed.  I can walk down the street, and no one notices me.  I have enough money to be comfortable but not have to deal with hundreds of people who want more money from me because they think that I am rich.  I have a loving wife who I am sure loves me for who I am and not for my money or looks.  I have seen the world without a body guard.  I am healthy and would not trade my health for all the money in the world.

My takeaway from my visit to Jerry is how much I wish that I could have left him with the five minutes of attention that he wanted.  The saddest part about Jerry’s life is that he could never let go of this need.  He acted as though by being cantankerous and il-tempered he would satisfy this need.  I think it cost him a great deal of the happiness that was always there for his taking.  We all respected his intellect and admired his reasoning abilities.  Each of us in our own way tried to overlook his insults and criticism.  It is tragic that he never realized how much his talents really meant to the rest of us.  We all knew that Jerry was one of a kind.

PS:  

Jerry died early this morning on the 13th of September in the year 2021.  If there is an afterlife, I hope Jerry finds the happiness, attention and recognition that he sought.  This is one of mine and Jerry’s favorite pictures.  Jerry had a great sense of humor.  He and Wilma posed for this picture at his garage sale a number of years ago.  It is of course a take off on the classic American Gothic.  Jerry liked it so much, he blew it up and kept a picture by his bedside.  This is how I want to remember Jerry.  A man of intelligence and humor.  

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